The Story of the Jenny Lind Tower

Fitchburg Depot – Courtesy of Boston Public Library

Cape Cod is home to its share of legends and lore. Perhaps none of them contain more layers and interwoven stories than that of the Jenny Lind Tower located in North Truro. The titular Lind’s life has connections to some of the biggest names of the day including Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Matthew Brady, and Abraham Lincoln. The seventy-foot tall tower stands head and shoulders above the surrounding trees near the abandoned North Truro Air Force Base. It is a peculiar site alongside the white spherical radar at the base. The tower can be easily spotted just south of Highland Lighthouse. The story of the stone tower begins nearly two centuries ago and 4,000 miles away.

In the city of Stockholm, Sweden on October 6, 1820 Jenny Lind was born. Lind was a simple, plain woman with one exception: her voice. She possessed a powerful soprano singing voice which would propel her to worldwide superstardom. Lind’s opera signing caught the eye of famed sideshow promoter P.T. Barnum in 1849. He sent an emissary to Sweden to offer her a lucrative deal to tour with him. The offer, for 150 American shows, was for $187,500 all in advance, a sum equal to more than $5.6 million in today’s money.

Jenny Lind Photo 1850 – Courtesy of Library of Congress

Known as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Lind would tour America from 1850-1852 including an amazing arrival in New York City where she was greeted by a crowd of more than 30,000 people. Her shows were magical garnering praise from celebrities such as poet Emily Dickinson. An article from the Providence Post detailing her concert there from October 7, 1850 described Lind’s voice as “beyond comparison with any that we have ever listened to, and beyond the reach of our praise.” Though a small few, including poet Walt Whitman, were not impressed by her talents.

It is around this time that Lind’s connection to Cape Cod begins. Though she would not step foot on the peninsula the tower that bears her name is indeed intertwined with her legacy. In early October of 1850 Lind would perform a show in Boston at one of the largest auditoriums in New England at the time. This venue was located on the second floor of the Fitchburg Railroad Depot building. It is this show where the legend of Jenny Lind takes one of two paths.

The popular myth is that the concert Jenny Lind performed at the depot in Boston was oversold with countless fans being left outside of the auditorium. These fans were understandably angry and were on the verge of causing a riot. In order to quell the masses Lind is purported to have stepped out into one of the two stone towers of the building and sang to the crowd from one of the turrets. This appeased the people and the show would go off without a hitch.

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Setterlund

This story has never been disproven although it was never reported in the newspapers at the time. Many believe that although Lind did perform at the auditorium of the Fitchburg Railroad Depot the stories of the rabid crowd were more likely to have been exuberant fans rushing the stage inside and not outside of the building.

Over the course of ninety-three dates Lind’s tour would earn what amounts to north of $21 million in today’s money. She would sever her contract with Barnum and return to Europe to rarely perform in public again. Much of the money she earned from her big American tour would be used to establish charities. Lind donated $5,000 to her friend Poly Von Schneidau for a new camera; he would use that camera to take one of the earliest photographs of future President Abraham Lincoln. Around this same time Jenny Lind would have one of the only known photographs of her taken by Mathew Brady who would go on to document the American Civil War through thousands of images.

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Setterlund

Upon her return to Europe in 1852 Lind would marry German pianist Otto Goldschmidt. She would live out the remainder of her years helping to raise their three children, working with the previously mentioned charities, and lastly teaching for three years at London’s Royal College of Music. Lind would die in November 1887 at sixty-seven.

In 1900 the Fitchburg Railroad would be sold to the Boston & Maine Railroad, taking over the depot where Lind had once performed. Years later, in 1927, the depot was about to be torn down when Boston lawyer Henry Aldrich, an admirer of Lind’s, stepped in. He purchased the tower where the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ had purportedly sung during her 1850 concert. The tower was dismantled brick by brick and moved to property he had purchased in North Truro. After two months and the work of five men the seventy-foot stone tower had a new home and Cape Cod had a very unique connection to some very influential historic names.

By Christopher Setterlund
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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